At Wit’s End Turned 50! A Celebration of Erma Bombeck
By Lisa A. Beach
Today’s mommy bloggers can thank Erma Bombeck for paving the way. In a time when Al Gore hadn’t yet “invented” the Internet and blogs weren’t yet a thing, humorist Erma Bombeck can lay unofficial claim as the original mommy blogger. Tackling everything from motherhood and marriage to self-esteem and body image, Erma put the fun in dysfunctional as she laid her soul bare in weekly newspaper columns and a dozen books for all the world to laugh. Never one to shy away from a hilarious mistake or a teachable moment gone hysterically awry, Erma thrived on sharing the insanity of everyday life at a still-politically-correct time when married Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
With her groundbreaking (and self-deprecating) humor, Erma set the world on fire.
In 2017, Erma’s 1967 breakthrough hit At Wit’s End celebrated its 50th anniversary. While Erma passed away in 1996, her humor stands the test of time. It resonates with any mother facing the demanding challenge of raising kids without losing your mind, any wife dealing with the ups and downs of marriage without killing your spouse, and any woman struggling with body image and aging in a Size 0, Photoshopped world.
I fell in love with Erma humor in my teens. Busy with college homework, beer pong, and a part-time retail job at the time, I had absolutely nothing in common with the midlife humorist other than a shared love of laughter and writing. I was single, childless, and living in a college dorm at the time, while Erma was queen of suburban housewife drudgery and stay-at-home mom frustrations.
At 18, I was still years away from a life filled with whiny kids, a stubborn husband, and the monotony of housework. And yet, Erma’s funny observations about everyday life struck a chord, turning me and millions of others into lifelong fans.
Over the years, I inhaled her comic genius in At Wit’s End (1967), If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978) and Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (1983).
Now 53, my life practically mirrors Erma’s as I navigate a midlife career reboot after being a stay-at-home mom. Her sharp observations often hit painfully-yet-hilariously close to home. And that “it-happened-to-me-too” relatability is why Erma’s humor stands the test of time.
Look at some of the best of Bombeck over the years as she takes on family, marriage, men, and beauty:
1. “I haven’t trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I’ve never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.” (Especially if they serve a basket of crusty ciabatta bread. Men just can’t compete.)
2. “You are going to have a good time on this vacation if we have to break every bone in your body.” (Nothing drives a family apart quicker than 12 hours together in a car.)
3. “The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” (I’m looking at you, Target.)
4. “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” (You just never know when that brownie will be your last one. Ever.)
5. “I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: ‘Checkout Time is 18 years.” (Sadly, your kids will probably never see the sign buried in the clutter-trap they call “their bedroom.”)
6. “Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.” (Also known as mom’s little motivator.)
7. “I’m trying very hard to understand this generation. They have adjusted the timetable for childbearing so that menopause and teaching a sixteen-year-old how to drive a car will occur in the same week.” (That’s so you can’t distinguish between a hot flash and an anxiety attack.)
8. “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?” (Way to manage expectations, Erma.)
9. “My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.” (It’s amazing how your kids are “done” just when you carry in that last bag.)
10.In two decades, I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet. (Fad diets don’t work? Who knew?)
Erma’s timeless humor reminds us that, while the world seems to change at breathtaking speed, some things never change—and we might as well keep laughing about it.
Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Parents, Eating Well, USA Today Pet Guide, and more. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.